Solid Energy mine subject of argument
Bathurst Resources and environmentalists yesterday argued whether Solid Energy's Sullivan mine next to the proposed Escarpment mine should be taken into account when the Environment Court assesses the effects of coalmining on the Denniston Plateau.
Western Australian mining company Bathurst Resources is defending its resource consents for an opencast coalmine on the plateau, under challenge in the court by the Royal Forest & Bird Society and the West Coast Environment Network.
Bathurst's lawyer Ben Williams said the coalmining licence held by Solid Energy for the Sullivan mine area would not be enough on its own to set up the opencast mine the state-owned enterprise is investigating.
It would be best to rely on a resource consent, but none had been applied for, he said.
The Sullivan underground mine was closed in 1996, but Solid Energy has been weighing up the prospect of opencast mining the area.
The Sullivan mining licence was awarded in 1990 under the Coal Mines Act 1979, a few months before the Resource Management Act (RMA) and the Crown Minerals Act superseding it were passed.
The RMA is the legal framework that determines the sustainable use of land, water and air which is managed by councils, with recourse to the Environment Court.
West Coast Environment Network lawyer Quentin Davies said the licence was intended to be a com- plete code allowing both mining and associated activities under several conditions.
The licence would allow Solid Energy to opencast mine in a limited capacity without needing RMA approval regarding water take and discharge, he said.
That meant the Sullivan mine should be considered part of the Denniston Plateau environment, he said.
"In general, we are always speculating about the future, and the Environment Court is a forward-looking court."
At Sullivan there was coal, a licence to mine it and time and money invested, he said.
West Coast Regional Council senior consents officer Tony Ridge told the court that, in theory, Solid Energy would be able to mine Sullivan without discharging into waterways and breaching its licence condition.
However, on a plateau that had an annual rainfall of more than 6000 millilitres, it would not be feasible to run a usual opencast mine with no discharge and he believed a resource consent would be needed, he said.
Bathurst's lawyer Williams said the mining licence would need to be backed up with other authorisations such as Conservation Department concessions and access agreements which meant the mine was not part of the existing plateau environment.
If opencast coalmining could be done with a mining licence alone, Bathurst Resources would not be in the Environment seeking resource consents, he said.
"It's completely fanciful to contend that you could do opencast coalmining without seeking a whole raft of authorisations."
Hans van der Wal, lawyer for the West Coast Regional Council and the Buller District Council, said potential future resource consents should not be factored in to the court's decision.
The hearing before Judge Laurie Newhook and two Environment Commissioners continues today.
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